Identifying a Strategy
Building a responsible movement for a new economy will require planning how to create new jobs without increased growth. One approach is a strategy of import replacement, with more labor intensive, smaller batch production, transported over shorter distances. The goal would be to create more jobs, but not more “stuff,” with a smaller carbon footprint overall. This may be an ambitious objective, but it is necessary if we are to transition to an economic system that is both equitable and sustainable.
Such a strategy will take a cultural shift as well as an economic one.
The home of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics is the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. As we are committed to the implementation as well as the development of a new economics, the task for us has been how to create a diverse and vital Berkshire economy independent of, and resilient toward, fluctuations in the outside economy. The process has engaged us with local, regional, and national partner organizations working to identify solutions to similar problems.
Roots in Community Supported Agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) started in the USA in 1986 at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massaschusetts, just a couple of miles down Jug End Road from the Library and offices of the Schumacher Center. The farm was run by Robyn Van En, a pioneer of the CSA movement.
In a CSA, the farmer creates a yearly operating budget and citizen/members pay in advance for a percentage of that budget – a share. In exchange the members of the CSA receive a weekly distribution of the produce from the farm. In a year when the weather is perfect for basil production, bunches of basil fill every distribution box. But if it is a bad year for tomatoes, the boxes are empty of tomatoes. Members share the risk with the farmer and, in the process, learn about regional growing conditions.
Since the 1980s, the CSA concept has grown into a worldwide movement involving thousands of farms. It has also taken root in the Berkshires and is now a strong part of the Berkshire ethos. Berkshire residents understand that, to have locally grown, high quality, fresh food, citizens must partner with farmers to guarantee a fair price for the farmer’s labor and to share in the risks of changing weather conditions, plant disease, and equipment failure. Berkshire residents also recognize that they need to adapt their cooking habits to account for crop availability and arrange their shopping patterns to match the schedules of farms and farmers’ market. As engaged risk-takers, the shareholders make up an informal marketing team for the farm and farmers, reducing marketing costs and serving as community advocates for farm-friendly policies.
Expanding the CSA Model
What would it mean to develop a similar understanding for other local production? Can the Berkshires also model an ethos that would support a Berkshire furniture factory, a wool products industry, an applesauce cannery, a humane slaughterhouse, a water-powered electric generation plant, or that small-scale business that a resident of the Berkshires has already imagined? Can the Berkshires also embrace “Community Supported Industry”? Can it build the “import-replacement” businesses that provide well-paid jobs for its youth and keep the Berkshires vibrant with a diversity of production, skills, and people while maintaining a commitment to a healthy ecology?
Many willing hands are needed to build a culture of citizen support for Berkshire businesses. This cultural and economic shift will necessitate the convening of meetings of business owners, retired persons, youth, investors, organizational leaders, public officials, and concerned citizens to ask the following questions:
- What products might be produced in the Berkshires that are not here yet?
- How can citizens help create conditions to ensure the success of new enterprises?
- What skills can be offered to help in the process? Development or review of business plans; market research; site selection; equipment identification; mentoring; financing; permitting; skill development?
How can the Berkshires leverage the wealth of community resources to support the budding entrepreneurs who will in turn run the new, appropriately scaled and environmentally sound businesses that are the foundation stones of a socially and environmentally responsible economy? These are steps not just for the Berkshires, but also for the many communities realizing that it will take multiple villages and villagers to build thriving regional economies.
Building on a Legacy
The problems and triumphs of shaping citizen-supported economies describe the work ahead for the Schumacher Center for a New Economics. We will be building on thirty-three years of our legacy programming in the Berkshires—SHARE micro-loan program, community land trusts, Deli Dollars, and BerkShares local currency. We will rely on the universal ideas captured in the Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures and housed in our library collection. We will continue to be inspired by collaborations with other organizations.
It will not be enough to only imagine the new green, fair, sustainable, slow, resilient businesses; not enough to build a library of good business plans; not enough to whet the appetite for regionally made goods and locally grown food. To implement the new industries identified and fostered under the umbrella of Community Supported Industry it will take securing affordable access to land, identifying (or training) skilled workers, and accessing appropriate capital. It will mean maintaining an ongoing national dialogue about imaginative land tenure options, distributed ownership, and the democratized issuing of currency.
Please join us by continuing to work in your neighborhoods and regional organizations, by engaging in discussion about the necessity and possibility of economic transformation, and by continuing your support.
A good community insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.
-Wendell Berry from “Work of Local Culture”